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Civic Engagement Students Serving Local Food Relief Program

Students in the Graham Center’s Civic Engagement course had been studying local food-justice issues when the COVID-19 crisis hit, devastating employment for restaurateurs and farmers and deepening food insecurity for Gainesville-area families.

Fahim Chowdhury and Noelle Mercer jumped in to help with an emergency response called Working Food Relief that is harnessing fresh crops, idled food professionals and community generosity to keep healthy, local food on Alachua County tables.

The students are spending the remainder of the semester on an outreach campaign for the effort, led by nonprofit Working Food with major support from the University of Florida, City of Gainesville and the Community Foundation of North Florida, along with many individual donors.

During the initial phase, area chefs including Joshua Joseph of Chef JJ’s Creations, Chef Carlton Watts of Underground Kitchen and Chef Bert Gill of Mildred’s are preparing meals with ingredients sourced from local farmers with support from Working Food’s culinary director, Ashley Rella. Meals are being distributed through community partners serving distressed families, such as the Partnership for Strong Families.

Chowdhury and Mercer’s service on the project embodies Gov. Graham’s mantra of “learning by doing,” articulated in their class textbook America the Owner’s Manual by Graham and Chris Hand.

With additional donations and a “buy-a-meal, give-a-meal” model in the next phase, Working Food Relief plans to expand to serve more families and include more food-service establishments. A $35 donation funds a meal for a family of four.

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